HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, has captured the imagination of audiences all over the world, and made legions of fanatical fans in Pakistan.
Key to the success of this series has been exceptional marketing. So can local brands learn from HBO?
First let’s look at how HBO set the ball rolling for Season 1. They went old school and on ground. HBO targeted New York and put up posters and billboards of Sean Bean as Ned Stark sitting on the now infamous Iron Throne with the line (which has become a part of pop culture) ‘Winter is Coming’. They followed this up by placing replicas of the throne in many major US cities, so that fans could have their photo taken of them sitting on the throne.
Then in New York and LA food trucks went around offering the dishes featured in the series. A new dish was created every day by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Hints as to the location of the truck were released on social media and once the truck reached its destination, the location was revealed and the first 300 people to get there were served the meal. For Season 2, well known tattoo artists were deployed to tattoo the house sigils (emblems) on the arms of lucky fans.
|Tattoo artist Ami James works on a fan. Photograph: Fast Company Cocreate|
Lesson 1 – Go on-ground and do it right
A key takeaway from what HBO does is to go for ground events, such as those described above. However, to work, the event has to offer a unique experience and it is recommended to have a celebrity on hand to ‘serve’ the experience. If the event is good enough people will share and promote it. Use social media to hype the event, tease your audience and follow-up once the event is over by encouraging tweets and other social media mentions. A word of caution; in Pakistan ‘exclusive’ means inviting a few celebrities, bloggers, media and friends to your event. For HBO, the exclusivity comes from the fact that the event is open to all, so you have to rush to be there before stocks finish so to speak.
Lesson 2 – Say one thing and keep the communication simple
HBO chose ‘Winter is Coming’ as their theme line for Season 1. For Season 2, they adapted the line according to the context and it became ‘War is Coming’. The key visual in the reveal ad was a hand grasping the crown, thereby summing up Season 2 (the fight for the crown of Westeros), with just one image. For Season 3 they chose a dragon’s silhouette as their image.
Similarly for Season 5, HBO invited fans to #CatchDrogon (Drogon is the most important dragon in the series) across social media. So keep the communication simple and don’t leave your audience guessing. The advertising adage “say one thing” was perfectly executed by HBO. In Pakistan brands too need to be clear and single minded.
Lesson 3 – Small budget, big impact
Small budgets don’t have to mean small impact. To promote the show in the UK, Blinkbox left a dragon’s skeleton overnight on a beach. Needless to say, they got the buzz they wanted. Even if you do not have the budget to have a dragon sculpted, you can still get attention by using your own building or store windows as an advertising medium. For Season 3 passersby in LA were greeted by the distinctive dragon image appearing on HBO’s headquarters in LA.
|Blinkbox installed a giant dragon skull, measuring 40ft by 8ft, to mark the third season of Game of Thrones. Photograph: Blinkbox.|
Lesson 4 – Timing and creativity, not reach
On February 25, 2013, the day after the Oscars, readers of the New York Times, going through the Arts section, perhaps looking for news about the Oscars, were greeted by the shadow of a dragon flying over a fake two page spread. The made up articles in the spread garnered further interest as people thought they may contain clues about what was in store in Season 3. Smart marketers know that timing is important and HBO chose the best possible day to release the ad – the day after the Oscars. Also, they selected only one newspaper – yet with an impressive creative they made up for not placing ads in more newspapers. Pakistani brands are often paralysed in their attempt to reach as many people as possible, yet focusing on exposing the message to everyone, rather than on how to make the message stand out creatively, is a losing battle.
|The full page ad published in The New York Times featured the shadow of one of Khaleesi’s dragons. Photograph: Adweek.|
Lesson 5 – Great campaigns are hard work
Great campaigns do not happen overnight, they take months if not years of preparation and fine tuning. In Pakistan brands are misled by their desire to have their ad go viral. Let’s be clear, you cannot create an average piece of communication and expect people to share it. Every brand has a story. It may not be as gripping as the one in Game of Thrones, but it’s a story worth telling. Whether you are a one-room designer or a multi-million rupee brand, you must tell your story in the best way possible. And what is the best possible way? The way HBO does it; by knowing and respecting (if not delighting) your audience and by having a single minded purpose in communication. If you focus on this and then keep refining your creative, there is no reason why you can’t win the marketing crown.